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Rhubarb and custard meringue pies

Rhubarb and custard meringue pies!

With the first forced rhubarb of the year now appearing in the shops, we couldn't resist a rhubarb inspired recipe this month, and what better than a rhubarb and custard combination - topped off with meringue!

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

170g plain flour

30g ground almonds

40g icing sugar

100g butter, cold and cubed

1 egg, beaten

For the rhubarb filling:

500g rhubarb cut into 2cm long pieces

3 tbls caster sugar

2 pieces of stem ginger (in syrup), chopped finely (optional - but I think it works really well with the rhubarb)

For the custard filling:

250ml milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 x  large egg yolks

50g caster sugar

1 and 1/2 tbls cornflour

For the meringue topping:

200g caster sugar

4 egg whites

2 tbls cornflour

Method:

You will need 8, 10cm wide x 3cm tall tartlet tins, or you could use a muffin tray which will produce a few more!

First you will need to make the pastry. Place the flour, ground almonds and icing sugar into a bowl and rub in the cold butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Alternatively, you can use a food processer. Once combined, add the beaten egg and bring the ingredients together to form a dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the rhubarb filling. Place the rhubarb, sugar and ginger into a saucepan with 2 tbls of water and heat until the rhubarb is soft. Drain the mixture well and put to the side until ready. Retain the juice as it makes a lovely sauce.

Once the pastry has cooled for 30 minutes, roll it out to about a £1 coin thickness and cut out pieces about 3cm larger than the base of the case, so it will reach the top of the case when lined) - you may need to cut and re-roll the pastry a couple of times to get 8 pieces which are large enough. Carefully line the cases with the pastry, cutting off any overhangs so it is flush with the top of the tartlet case, and place back in the fridge to chill for a further 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to Gas 5 / 190°C.

Once chilled, line the cases with baking paper and baking beans and blind bake them for 12-15 minutes - until they are golden brown. Take them out of the oven, remove the baking paper and beans and then place them back in the oven for a further 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in their cases on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to Gas 4 / 180°C.

While the pastry is cooking you can make a start on the custard filling. In a saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla essence until hot - remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  In a separate bowl whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until thick and pale in colour - 1-2 minutes. Whilst whisking slowly pour in all the warm milk mixture until combined. Pour the milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, constantly whisking, until thick and just simmering, then remove from the heat. Be careful not to scorch the bottom of the pan as this will produce small black bits in your custard - not very nice! Place the custard in a bowl and cover with a sheet of clingfilm so that it doesn't form a skin. Set aside until needed.

Now you can make the meringue. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then slowly add the caster sugar, followed by the cornflour and whisk until the sugar/cornflour is completely incorporated and stiff peaks form.

Now you are ready to assemble! Divide the rhubarb mixture equally between the cases and spread it out to cover the bottom of the pastry case. Repeat with the custard mixture to cover the rhubarb. You can then either spoon or pipe the meringue mixture over the custard. Place the pies back into the oven for a further 15 minutes. Once cooked, remove them from the oven and leave to cool in their cases.

They are at their best when eaten on the same day - remove the pies from their cases, dust with icing sugar and enjoy with a large dollop of cream!